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Prototypical Patriots: Could Belichick dip into 'Bama pipeline for interior DL help?

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Prototypical Patriots: Could Belichick dip into 'Bama pipeline for interior DL help?

As we take a look at some of the interior defensive linemen in this year's draft class, it's worth questioning what exactly the Patriots are looking for. 

Bill Belichick obviously has a long list of draft picks at that spot -- as he does at every spot; he's been at it for almost 20 years in New England after all -- but there's a little more uncertainty up front for the Patriots than there has been lately. 

The reason? Belichick's defensive coordinator of the last half-dozen seasons is now the head coach in Detroit. 

When Matt Patricia took over the defense in 2011 (he didn't get the coordinator title until the next season), he helped transition the Patriots from a 3-4 team to more of a 4-3 team. Belichick and Patricia deployed multiple fronts over the years together, but there was a change in styles when Patricia took the reins. 

The Patriots are now entering into the Brian Flores era defensively, it seems. As was the case with Patricia in 2011, Flores doesn't have the coordinator title, but if it's his defense, what will that look like? Will he prefer 4-3 looks and the personnel required to play that style? Or will he turn back the clock to pre-2011 and shift to more of a 3-4 approach? 

If Flores and Belichick roll with what the Patriots have done in recent years, odds are they'll look for athletic big men in the 320-pound range who can play a variety of techniques along the interior. 

If they're looking to go with a 3-4 style, they may want more powerful, 300-pound five-technique types who can play defensive end in those fronts. Lawrence Guy guys, if you will. Adding another true nose tackle -- for depth behind newly-acquired 335-pounder Danny Shelton -- could be on the to-do list as well. 

Time will tell when it comes to how the Patriots will mix up their fronts. We may have to wait for the team to get on the field to get a good grip on their plans for 2018. But the players they draft for the defensive line could serve as clues as to Flores and Belichick's intentions.

PROTOTYPICAL PATRIOTS - Previously in the series:



PROTOTYPES IN RANGE


VITA VEA, WASHINGTON, 6-4, 347 POUNDS

The premier defensive tackle in this class, Vea is the prototypical nose tackle for a 3-4 defense. He could go somewhere in the teens, which would put him out of reach of the Patriots unless they were willing to trade up for him. He's a superb athlete for his size (5.10-second 40) and he put up a whopping 41 bench reps at the combine. 

DA'RON PAYNE, ALABAMA, 6-2, 311 POUNDS

With good length (33-inch arms) and solid testing numbers (4.95-second 40, 107-inch broad), Payne's combine only helped to buttress what teams saw from his tape. He'll be one of the first interior linemen taken in the draft -- maybe in the first round -- and he could conceivably help the Patriots as a 4-3 defensive tackle on first and second down. He's not quite as tall as the 3-4 ends the Patriots have taken in the past, but his combination of size and athleticism should allow him to shift up and down the line however Belichick, Flores and defensive line coach Brendan Daly see fit. 

DA'SHAWN HAND, ALABAMA, 6-4, 297 POUNDS

Big-time five-technique talent. Has all the length (34 3/8-inch arms) and power the Patriots could ever want. His athleticism is ideal as well (4.83-second 40, 31.5-inch vertical, 111-inch broad). The question with Hand is how his motor runs. If Belichick gets a strong scouting report from Saban as it relates to the consistency of Hand's effort, he looks like someone the Patriots could nab in the second or third round if they're looking to play more 3-4 fronts.

TAVEN BRYAN, FLORIDA, 6-5, 291 POUNDS

Bryan is athletic enough to play anywhere along the defensive line. He did his best work as an explosive and quick interior disruptor for the Gators, but his size and movement skills (4.98-second 40 time, 35-inch vertical, 119-inch broad, 7.12 three-cone) should allow him to kick out every so often. Bryan, who is the son of a Navy SEAL, is a little raw but will be in all likelihood a first-round pick. 

MAURICE HURST, MICHIGAN, 6-1, 292 POUNDS

Hurst doesn't exactly fit the profile of the big hard-to-move tackle or the long-and-powerful five-technique . . . but his quickness off the snap and his ridiculous level of production for the Wolverines could have Belichick interested. The Xaverian Brothers (Westwood, Mass.) product will have to check out medically after leaving the combine with a heart issue, but if he's available late in the first round, the Patriots could pounce. Like the undersized-but-quick Dominique Easley in 2014, Hurst might be viewed as talented enough to stray from the Patriots prototype. 

HARRISON PHILLIPS, STANFORD, 6-3, 307 POUNDS

Long (33 7/8-inch arms), strong (42 bench reps of 225 pounds) and athletic (32-inch vertical), Phillips should be able to play a variety of techniques along the Patriots defensive line. He comes from a well-respected program, and for a defense that will change things up on the fly, he could be viewed as an ideal fit. 

JALYN HOLMES, OHIO STATE, 6-5, 283 POUNDS

Holmes is a little light to play as a 3-4 end, but if the Patriots have a good feel for how he'll develop (and they should after Holmes played under Urban Meyer and Greg Schiano), they could have a long (34-inch arms) and athletic (4.82-second 40) five-technique on their hands. 

NATHAN SHEPHERD, FORT HAYS STATE, 6-4, 315 POUNDS

A very good athlete for his size, Shepherd checks just about every physical marker the Patriots look for. He recorded a 5.09-second 40, a 31-inch vertical and a 7.5-second three-cone drill. The level of competition Shepherd faced won't do him any favors in NFL war rooms, but his ability to move all over a defensive line -- is he a five-technique end or a true defensive tackle? -- and his performance at the Senior Bowl will. 

BREELAND SPEAKS, OLE MISS, 6-3, 283 POUNDS

The Patriots reportedly had Speaks in for one of their top-30 visits, which could serve as an indication that they're interested in another five-technique. Speaks could, in theory, play inside in a 4-3 . . . but he's built more like a 3-4 end. He's a little shorter than what the Patriots have traditionally drafted at that spot, but he has good length (33 3/4-inch arms) and he's a very good athlete (4.87-second 40, 32.5-inch vertical, 110-inch broad jump). Late on Day 2 or early Day 3, he could get a call from One Patriot Place. 

FOLEY FATUKASI, UCONN, 6-4, 318 POUNDS

Fatukasi has all of the size (34 1/8-inch arms, 10 1/4-inch hands) and athleticism (30-inch vertical, 7.44-second three-cone) to be able to play multiple different positions along Belichick's front. He looks best suited to align as a 4-3 defensive tackle or an end in a 3-4. That kind of malleability could make him a choice late on Day 2 or early Day 3. 

TIM SETTLE, VIRGINIA TECH, 6-3, 321 POUNDS

Settle's combination of size and athleticism pops off the screen at times, but he didn't test as athletically as his best tape looked (23.5-inch vertical, 5.37-second 40). Still, he's a young prospect who has the size and movement skills -- if he can get better at maintaining his balance -- to fit in either a 3-4 or a 4-3. NFL.com's Lance Zierlein compared Settle to Vince Wilfork

BJ HILL, NC STATE, 6-3, 311 POUNDS

Hill is an interesting case. He's as athletic as the Patriots need up front (4.99-second 40, 26.5-inch vertical, 7.28-second three-cone) but finding a fit for him size-wise is a little bit of a challenge. He's not quite as tall as most five-techniques the Patriots have selected in the past. And he's not quite as heavy as the true defensive tackles they've taken. Hill's explosiveness may get him drafted in the second round, but would the Patriots be willing to pull the trigger on him then. Belichick was on hand for Hill's pro day and seemed to had some interest in the big fella, according to former assistant to the Patriots coaching staff and current Ringer analyst Mike Lombardi. 

DERRICK NNADI, FLORIDA STATE, 6-1, 317 POUNDS

Nnadi looks like a 4-3 defensive tackle rather than a true nose in a 3-4, where he'd probably get swallowed up at the next level. With his effort-level as his staple, he was named a third-team all-ACC selection last year and a first-teamer the year prior. As an early Day 3 selection, Nnadi might be worth a pick due to his strength and his motor. 

KENDRICK NORTON, MIAMI, 6-3, 314 POUNDS

Belichick was the only head coach in attendance at Miami's pro day, and it should come as no surprise that he gravitated toward the defensive linemen. As he did at NC State and Georgia, he put the big boys up front through a series of bag drills. Norton looks like he could be a fit on the interior for Belichick given his frame and massive hands (10 3/4 inches). RJ McIntosh (6-4, 286 pounds) is worthy of a mention here as well since he's viewed as athletic enough to play as a 4-3 end on first and second down. If he improves his play strength, he may also have the ability to play as a 3-4 end. Chad Thomas is another talent on Miami's front to keep an eye on, but at 6-5, 281 pounds he doesn't exactly fit the profile of any interior linemen (or ends) the Patriots have drafted in the past. 

JOHN ATKINS, GEORGIA, 6-3, 321 POUNDS

Atkins has the size the Patriots are looking for, and his power flashed against SEC competition. As a Day 3 option, if the Patriots feel they need a space-eater, he could offer enough on and off the field -- he's considered a strong locker-room presence -- to hear his name called. 

JOSHUA FRAZIER, ALABAMA, 6-3, 321 POUNDS

Another big body (34 1/4-inch arms, 10-inch hands) from the SEC who could be had at the end of the draft or as an undrafted free agent, Frazier's a run-stuffing prospect that Nick Saban had relatively little (game-day) use for in Tuscaloosa. He played in less than 18 percent of his team's snaps in 2016 and 2017, per NFL.com. 

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Pro day circuit shows Belichick in his element

Pro day circuit shows Belichick in his element

Bill Belichick is a teacher. His father was a teacher. His mother was a teacher. He is very much their son in that regard. 

The glimpses into Belichick's essence aren't as rare as you might think, but they still generate an inordinate amount of interest because he's arguably the best to ever execute the kind of teaching he's made his life's work.

Every time he takes several minutes to answer a conference call or press conference question thoughtfully, the hundreds of words found in the text of the transcribed answer typically create a stir on Twitter. NFL Films productions that show Belichick operating behind the scenes are devoured. Exclusive interviews, where he shares his insight on individual games and matchups, make every installment of the ‘Do Your Job’ series a must-watch.

Clips of Belichick on the practice field aren't necessarily hard to find, there just aren't many of them considering how many practices he's run over the course of his decades-long career. But thanks to more lax media policies at the college programs he visits for pro days, video of his on-the-field work pops up on a regular basis this time of year. They are mini-clinics dotting the internet. 

This is Belichick in his element. Even in the middle of a random university campus. Even with scouts, coaches and front-office people from around the league watching his every move. Whether he's coaching players one-on-one or three or four at a time, Belichick is imparting his wisdom on eager close-to-blank slates. All the while he's trying to evaluate how they're absorbing what he's giving them. Do they pay attention? How do they process information? Are they error-repeaters? 

It's a fascinating give-and-take between the 60-something coach trying to build a roster and the 20-something players trying to make one, some of whom hadn't yet hit kindergarten when Belichick won his first ring in New England. And he seems to enjoy it. 

Here's a quick look at some of what Belichick has been up to the last few days at Georgia, South Carolina and NC State.  


 

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Walk-off: Alabama beats Georgia in OT for national title

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Walk-off: Alabama beats Georgia in OT for national title

ATLANTA -- To add another championship to the greatest dynasty college football has ever seen, Alabama turned to its quarterback of the future, and Tua Tagovailoa proved that his time is now.

The freshman quarterback, who had played mostly mop-up duty this season, came off the bench to spark a comeback and threw a 41-yard touchdown to DeVonta Smith that gave No. 4 Alabama a 26-23 overtime victory against No. 3 Georgia on Monday night for the College Football Playoff national championship.

Tagovailoa entered the game at halftime, replacing a struggling Jalen Hurts, and threw three touchdown passes to give the Crimson Tide its fifth national championship since 2009 under coach Nick Saban.

"He just stepped in and did his thing," Hurts said. "He's built for stuff like this. I'm so happy for him."

The Tide might have a quarterback controversy ahead of it but first Alabama will celebrate another national title.

For the third straight season, Alabama played in a classic CFP final. The Tide split two with Clemson, losing last season on touchdown with a second left.

What was Saban thinking as the winning pass soared this time?

"I could not believe it," he said. "There's lots of highs and lows. Last year we lost on the last play of the game and this year we won on the last play of the game. These kids really responded the right way. We said last year, `Don't waste the feeling.' They sure didn't, the way they played tonight."

Smith streaked into the end zone and moments later confetti rained and even Saban seemed almost giddy after watching maybe the most improbably victory of his unmatched career.

After Alabama kicker Andy Pappanastos missed a 36-yard field goal that would have won it for the Tide (13-1) in the final seconds of regulation , Georgia (13-2) took the lead with a 51-yard field goal from Rodrigo Blankenship in overtime.

Tagovailoa took a terrible sack on Alabama's first play of overtime, losing 16 yards. On the next play he found Smith, another freshman, and hit him in stride for the national championship.

Tagovailoa was brilliant at times, though he had a few freshman moments. He threw an interception when he tried to pass on a running play and all his receivers were blocking. He also darted away from the pass rushers and made some impeccable throws, showing the poise of a veteran. Facing fourth-and-goal from 7, down seven, the left-hander moved to his left and zipped a pass through traffic that hit Calvin Ridley in the numbers for the tying score with 3:49 left in the fourth quarter.

He finished 14 for 24 for 166 yards. The winning play was, basically, four receivers going deep.

"After the sack, we just got up and took it to the next play," Tagovailoa said. "I looked back out, and he was wide open. Smitty was wide open." Freshmen were everywhere for the Alabama offense: Najee Harris at running back, Henry Ruggs III at receiver, Alex Leatherwood at left tackle after All-American Jonah Williams was hurt. It's a testament to the relentless machine Saban has built.

But this game will be remembered most for his decision to change quarterbacks trailing 13-0.

"I just thought we had to throw the ball, and I felt he could do it better, and he did," Saban said. "He did a good job, made some plays in the passing game. Just a great win. I'm so happy for Alabama fans. Great for our players. Unbelievable."

Saban now has six major poll national championships, including one at LSU, matching the record set by the man who led Alabama's last dynasty, coach Paul Bear Bryant.

This was nothing like the others.

With President Trump in attendance, the all-Southeastern Conference matchup was all Georgia in the first half before Saban pulled Hurts and the five-star recruit from Hawaii entered. The president watched the second half from Air Force One.

"I don't know how Coach Saban found me all the way in Hawaii from Alabama," Tagovailoa said. "Thank God he found me and we're here right now."

The Tide trailed 20-7 in the third quarter after Georgia's freshman quarterback, Jake Fromm, hit Mecole Hardman for an 80-yard touchdown pass that had the Georgia fans feeling good about ending a national title drought that dates back to 1980.

Fromm threw for 232 yards for a while it looked as if he was going to be the freshman star for the game, the first to true freshman to lead his team to a national title season since Jamelle Holieway for Oklahoma in 1985.

"I mean, if you want to find out about Jake Fromm, go ask those guys on the other side of the ball, and they'll tell you because that's a really good defense he just went against," Smart said.

A little less than a year after the Atlanta Falcons blew a 25-point lead and lost in overtime to the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl, there was more pain for many of the local fans. Two years ago, Georgia brought in Saban's top lieutenant, Kirby Smart, to coach the Bulldogs and bring to his alma mater a dose of Alabama's Process.

Smart, who spent 11 seasons with Saban - eight as his defensive coordinator in Tuscaloosa - quickly built `Bama East. It was Georgia that won the SEC this season. Alabama had to slip into the playoff without even winning its own division.

With the title game being held 70 miles from Georgia's campus in Athens, Dawg fans packed Mercedes-Benz Stadium, but it turned out to be sweet home for Alabama and now Saban is 12-0 against his former assistants.

But not without angst.

Alabama drove into the red zone in the final minute and Saban started playing for a field goal that would end the game and win it for the Tide. A nervous quiet gripped the crowd of 77,430 as `Bama burned the clock. With the ball centered in the middle of the field, Pappanastos lined up for a kick to win the national championship. The snap and hold looked fine, but the kicked missed badly to the left.

For the second straight week, Georgia was going to overtime. The Bulldogs beat Oklahoma in a wild Rose Bowl in double overtime to get here, and after Jonathan Ledbetter and Davin Bellamy sacked Tagovailoa for a big loss on the first play, Alabama was in trouble - second-and-26.

Not for long. Tagovailoa looked off the safety and threw the biggest touchdown pass in the history of Alabama football.

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